by Walter Trice
15 February 2009
All backgammon players rely on rules of thumb for making checker play decisions. We know that hitting blots is good, that "coming under the gun" is risky, that we should play for contact when trailing in the race, that playing safe is pointless with five men back, and so on. We also know, at least unconsciously, that our rules often conflict with one another, and that they often depend on unstated assumptions about when they apply and when they do not. That is why backgammon is not a trivial game.
Playing in a chouette recently I found myself invoking such a rule to persuade members of the team to make a certain play: "90% of the time if you're not hitting something then the play that makes the most of six consecutive points will be correct." The 90% statistic was largely a guess, and later I wondered whether it might be possible to test my ad hoc claim. Perhaps I could find out what my 90% factoid number should have been to make the claim a real fact. I also thought it would be interesting to look at representative positions in which a prime-building play should be avoided, to see what distinguished them from the (hopefully!) more common priming situations.
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